Oklahoma Politicians Change Campaigning Due to Coronavirus

Candidates for legislative offices in the state say that they’re more reliant now than ever before on social media and direct mail, with many searching for any way to connect with voters from afar.

by Carmen Forman, The Oklahoman / April 13, 2020
Coronavirus (COVID-19) drive-up testing being performed by staff at Assurance Scientific Laboratories at their facility at 2868 Acton Road. TNS

(TNS) — In a typical election year, candidates would be knocking on doors, shaking hands and kissing babies — whatever it takes to get votes.

However, the coronavirus has fundamentally changed how candidates are campaigning, which usually is done face-to-face on doorsteps and at fundraisers.

Candidates for legislative offices say they’re more reliant now than ever before on social media and direct mail. Most are searching for any way to connect with voters from afar.

Tulsa, Okla., attorney Cheryl Baber is one of three Republicans vying for the nomination in Senate District 35. The seat is open because Sen. Gary Stanislawski is term limited and cannot run again.

In hindsight, Baber said she’s lucky she got in the race early in June 2019 because she was able to knock on most of the doors in the district before in-person campaigning came to an abrupt halt.

“Before this occurred, I was going door-to-door trying to meet voters and speak with them in that manner,” she said. “Those of us that are down ballot here in state House, state Senate races, that’s where we really have a lot of impact, but now we can’t do that.”

Baber has shifted to calling voters on the phone, sending out more direct mail and ramping up her social media presence.

As for fundraisers and other meet-and-greet events, those are on pause until the coronavirus situation clears up. But with the June 30 primary a little more than two months away, Baber’s hopeful she’s got enough campaign cash to hold on until then.

“I’m just hoping that I have everything in the bank to last through the primary election, and then, if I can get past the primary, the fundraising efforts will really begin anew for the general," she said.

Other Republicans vying for the Senate seat are: Kyden Creekpaum and Linda Morrissey. There also will be a Democratic primary contest for the three Democrats competing for the open seat.

In Edmond, Andrea Stone started holding virtual bingo nights to keep people engaged with her campaign. A Democrat, Stone is challenging the state Senate’s top Republican leader, Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.

About a week ago, Stone invited campaign volunteers and supporters to print off bingo cards and play along as she called bingo numbers through a livestream on Facebook. Periodically during the game, Stone would make plugs for people to volunteer or donate to her campaign.

“I’m trying to find ways to keep people engaged in the campaign and break up the boredom,” she said.

Virtual bingo is a natural extension of Stone’s professional skills. The Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America volunteer has a background in distance learning and taught online for years. She previously worked at the University of Central Oklahoma teaching faculty how to use technology to better connect with their students.

Michael Ross, a Democratic House candidate in Tulsa, has had mixed results with virtual campaigning.

Eager to connect with other people, Ross invited several other Democratic candidates to join him in virtual candidate karaoke one Friday night. There were technical difficulties from the start. The Facebook livestream was garbled so they switched over to using Zoom, a video conferencing tool.

Within the first few minutes, their virtual hangout was “Zoom bombed” and disrupted by pornographic images.

“It was awful, but we had a laugh about it,” he said.

A teacher, Ross is challenging Rep. Lonnie Sims, R-Jenks. He hoped to start seriously campaigning over spring break, but the coronavirus derailed his plans.

Instead of knocking on doors in the district, Ross started doing weekly livestreams on his website where he takes questions from voters.

“It’s not the same as being on peoples’ doorsteps, but I’m doing anything I can to reach out to people and trying to bring them in and show them this is who I am, this is what I stand for,” he said.

Candidate filing for federal and state offices up for election this year concluded last week. A full list of candidates can be found through the Oklahoma State Election board at ok.gov/elections and at oklahoman.com.

©2020 The Oklahoman. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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